Elon Musk in Trouble with the SEC Again

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk discusses the company's successful Falcon Heavy rocket test launch.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk discusses the company's successful Falcon Heavy rocket test launch on Feb. 6, 2018. (Image credit: Kim Shiflett/NASA)

A tweet has gotten Elon Musk in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) yet again.

The SEC has asked a federal judge to hold the SpaceX boss in contempt for a Feb. 19 tweet about his electric-car company, Tesla, Ars Technica reported yesterday (Feb. 25).

"Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019," the offending tweet reads. This was misleading, according to SEC officials, because the true output for this year will be considerably lower. 

Musk issued a clarifying tweet a few hours after the first one: "Meant to say annualized production rate at end of 2019 probably around 500k, ie 10k cars/week. Deliveries for year still estimated to be about 400k." 

But the damage had been done — and on two fronts, because the SEC determined that the billionaire entrepreneur hadn't gotten pre-approval from Tesla lawyers before posting the "500k" tweet. Musk must get such approval before tweeting any information that may affect Tesla's stock price, according to the October settlement that resolved his first spat with the SEC.

That previous battle stemmed from an Aug. 7 tweet by Musk, which stated that he was considering taking the publicly traded Tesla private and had already secured funding to do so, at $420 per share. The SEC deemed these statements "false and misleading" and sued the Tesla and SpaceX chief in September. 

That suit was resolved when Tesla agreed to pay a $20 million fine, and Musk agreed to pay a $20 million fine of his own, step down from the chairmanship of Tesla's board and get the above-mentioned pre-approvals. 

But the settlement hasn't made the billionaire docile and conciliatory. As yesterday's Ars Technica piece noted, he recently told the CBS news show "60 Minutes" that he doesn't respect the SEC. And today (Feb. 26), he said via Twitter that "something is broken with SEC oversight."

The Ars Technica story has many more details about the Musk-SEC saga. Read it here.

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate) is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.